Star witness in ex-Va. governor trial: No affair

Boxes of witness material are wheeled into the federal courthouse in Richmond, VAa., Monday, Aug. 4, 2014, for the start of the second week of the federal corruption trial for former Gov. Bob McDonnelland former first lady Mureen McDonnell. The McDonnells are charged with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie Williams, the former CEO of dietary supplements maker Star Scientific Inc., in exchange for helping promote his company's products. (AP Photo/Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bob Brown)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The key prosecution witness in former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s trial testified Monday that he never saw any signs the governor’s marriage was crumbling, and that he never had any intimate physical contact with the first lady.

A prosecutor asked Jonnie Williams about Bob and Maureen McDonnell’s marriage to counter a defense attorney’s assertion last week that the first lady, feeling neglected by her frequently absent husband, had developed a crush on Williams and that he had led her on.

“I didn’t know she had any interest in me until this past week,” Williams sheepishly said on the stand.

Photos: Evidence in McDonnell trial

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry asked specifically whether Williams and Maureen McDonnell had any intimate contact.

“I never had any contact with Mrs. McDonnell — no physical contact, period,” he said.

Williams also said Maureen McDonnell never told him her marriage was on the rocks, and he saw no signs that it was. To further make the point, the prosecution showed two photos of the McDonnells at public events. They were holding hands in one, and Bob McDonnell was kissing his wife on the cheek in the other.

The McDonnells are charged with accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from Williams, the former CEO of dietary supplements maker Star Scientific Inc., in exchange for helping promote his company’s products. They could face decades in prison if convicted.

Williams testified under immunity, starting Wednesday afternoon and concluding at lunchtime Monday.

Bob McDonnell’s attorney, Henry Asbill, questioned Williams about his immunity agreement. He reminded Williams that he testified that a company’s first responsibility is to stay in business.

“Would you agree the second rule of business is not to go to jail?” Asbill asked.

Williams, who has said repeatedly that he has done wrong, replied: “I don’t think any businessman wants to go to jail.”

Asbill, attempting to undermine Williams’ credibility, questioned Williams about lawsuits he and Star faced over allegations of securities violations. Williams said he thought most of the half-dozen “nuisance suits” by Star shareholders had been settled or soon would be, but Asbill noted that two were put on hold at the request of prosecutors in the McDonnell case.

Defense attorneys last week noted that Williams and Maureen McDonnell had exchanged text messages and phone calls more than 1,200 times in less than two years, suggesting that the relationship between Williams and the McDonnells was not strictly business as Williams has said. Dry put that number in context, though, by mentioning Monday that during the same period Williams made or received about 109,000 calls and texts.

“I’m a busy man,” Williams said.

Asbill asked Williams whether having the governor call the businessman’s father on his 80th birthday was business or personal. Williams said it was personal, but it wouldn’t have been possible without his spending on the McDonnells.

“This cost me, in my mind, hundreds of thousands of dollars even to be able to do that,” he said.

The text message from Williams to Bob McDonnell about the birthday phone call read, “You are a wonderful man I am proud to know. It’s been a highlight in my life. You made an old man very happy. Anything I can do for your family I will.”

Asbill pursued a line of questioning aimed at pinning most of the requests for gifts and loans on Maureen McDonnell and suggesting that the governor did little, if anything, for Williams in return. Williams acknowledged that his company received no state grants, which is what he was after.

But he pointed to a gathering of health care leaders at the governor’s mansion, where Williams was permitted to invite anyone he wanted for a discussion about Star’s signature product, Anatabloc.

“That was a very significant evening, to have that sort of thing happen for my company,” he said.

Among the gifts Bob McDonnell received was a Rolex watch purchased by Williams and given to the governor by his wife for Christmas 2012. Williams received a text message that Christmas Eve with a photo of a smiling McDonnell showing off the timepiece.

“My first thought was I was scared to death,” Williams said of his reaction to seeing the picture. “It’s the first time I’m sure he knew it came from me.”

Asbill said there was no available message data proving that the picture came from Bob McDonnell’s phone. “It said ‘Gov’ on my phone,” Williams said.

Williams testified last week that Maureen McDonnell asked him to buy the watch, and it was a mistake to do so.

Phil Cox, executive director of the Republican Governors Association and a former Bob McDonnell adviser, testified about a January 2012 trip to South Carolina to join GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. McDonnell was being mentioned as a possible Romney running mate. Cox said Maureen McDonnell cornered Romney’s wife, Ann, on a campaign bus and began telling her how Anatabloc could cure her multiple sclerosis.

“I was horrified,” Cox said. “I didn’t think it sort of showed the governor in a great light.”

Cox also said he got an email from an angry Maureen McDonnell on Christmas eve 2009, after he and another McDonnell aide had advised against Williams buying an inauguration dress for Maureen McDonnell.

“It was sort of an insane rant of an email,” Cox said. “Coming on Christmas eve, it angered me.”

Cox said he expressed concerns about Williams to Bob McDonnell.

“I thought he was a little bit of a snake oil salesman,” he said.

Bob McDonnell’s former scheduler, Monica Block, took the stand late Monday. She testified that she thought of Williams as a donor with a plane, and said she communicated more with his assistant Jerri Fulkerson, than with the CEO.

Block said she thought Maureen McDonnell liked Williams, but could not point to a specific example that gave her that impression. She is expected back on the stand Tuesday for cross-examination from the McDonnells’ lawyers.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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